Somebody Wants to Buy Amer Sports

Back on September 11, due to some speculation in the media, Amer Sports confirmed that it had “…received a non-binding preliminary indication of interest…from a consortium comprising ANTA Sports Products Limited and the Asian private equity firm FountainVest Partners…” to buy all of Amer Sports’ shares at a cash price of forty Euros per share.

Here’s a link to the Amer Sports web site.  The brands the company owns include, among others, Salomon, Arc’teryx, Armada and Atomic.

ANTA describes itself as follows:

“Established in 1994 and listed on the Main Board of Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2007, ANTA Sports Products Limited (stock code: 2020.HK) is the leading sportswear companies in China. Up to Nov. 2016,ANTA’s market value was summed up to USD 7.39 Billion.”

“For many years, we have been principally engaged in the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of ANTA sportswear series to provide professional sporting goods to the mass market.”

“In recent years, we have started moving full steam ahead with the strategy of “Single-focus, Multi-brand, and Omni-channel” to deepen our footprint in the sportswear market.”

The ANTA web site can be found here.   They are a public Chinese company with reported 2017 revenue of 16.7 billion renminbi (about US$ 2.4 billion at the current exchange rate).

ANTA’s purchasing partner FountainVest “…FountainVest is a leading private equity firm investing in companies that benefit from China’s growth, now managing total assets over US$4.5 billion…Our investment strategy has consistently focused on businesses that benefit from the secular growing needs and rising aspirations of the expanding Chinese middle class. While we are a generalist fund that invests across sectors, we have strong experience in areas of healthcare, consumer retail, media & entertainment and lifestyle. Our deal types are both control and growth capital oriented, with us having a high operational focus and a dedicated portfolio management team.”

And here is their web site if you want more information.

On October 11 Amer Sports, by press release, confirmed that there have been discussions between Amer Sports and the potential buyer “…to ascertain whether there is a basis to commence a more formal process to facilitate a possible recommended transaction.”  You can find the press releases here if you’re interested.

We are a long way from a deal, but they’re talking.  As of the end of June, Amer Sports had 116,517,285 shares outstanding.  The stock price closed at 33.89 Euros on October 12.  A purchase price of 40 Euros would represent a premium of 18% and an enterprises value of 4.66 billion Euros.    The stock price has risen from around 29 Euros since the September 11 announcement, with most of the increase coming at the time of the announcement.  It will get closer to 40 Euros if the market comes to believes a deal is more likely to happen.

A quick look at ANTA’s balance sheet leads me to believe they don’t have the financial capacity to pull off the deal alone, hence the involvement of FountainVest.

I don’t have any staggering insights on this transaction, but I hadn’t seen it mentioned and thought you’d be interested in knowing about it.  We are in an industry where it’s good to be big.

How Brick and Mortar Retail Has to Change

I don’t think brick and mortar is going away.  I doubt many of you think it is either.  I do believe that consolidation and transformation of the space has a way to go and I further believe it will reach its climax when (not if) the next recession hits.  I know this sounds kind of unfeeling, but I’d sort of like to get that recession going and out of the way.  The longer it’s delayed the worse it will be.

It won’t be just a recession that leads to this continuing transformation and consolidation.  The continued growth of ecommerce, retailers resisting change, and slower long-term GDP growth will also play their parts.

But you, as a retailer, don’t want to be consolidated (well, maybe at the right price) and you don’t want to go out of business.  Knowing that, I’ve been evaluating the role of a brick and mortar store these days compared to what it used to be.

What Stores Are Not Doing as Much Of

Let’s remind ourselves of the traditional functions stores helped customers perform.

  1. Finding the product
  2. Discovering the price
  3. Understanding the features
  4. Learning how it performs
  5. Figuring out if others like it and why
  6. Buying the product

That’s quite a list.  Some of your customers will continue to need (or want) your store(s) to perform some of these six functions some of the time.  But not most of your customers all of the time as used to be the case.

If that isn’t a kick in the pants alerting you to the need to change your business (and financial!) model, I don’t know what is.  What changes?

What You Have to Do More Of

In the last few months, I’ve developed in my head a model of what I think retail is evolving to.  I’m certain it’s incomplete and wrong in some way given the continuous change.  I’m laying it out here anyway because (1) Even though some of it is known, I want to draw it together, (2) writing about it helps me think deeper, (3) I’d like you to tell me where you think I’m wrong and (4) there is urgency for every retailer to have a vision and act on it regardless of the uncertainty.

I think most of this applies to brands as well, as retailers are brands and brands are retailers.  Anyway, here’s my shot at it.  There is a certain advantage to being a large retailer right now, but this all generally applies to one store or one thousand.

First, your brick and mortar and online has to be completed integrated.  You have to see your business as having one customer, no matter how they buy, and one revenue stream.  The customer has to be able to view and buy the same product at the same price in the store or online on any device.  You should be agnostic in terms of where and how a product is sold and delivered.

You do that by making your stores as responsible as they can be for handling the online, as well as the in store, customer relationship.  Which, and I hope I don’t have to point this out, is really one relationship.  Don’t argue with me about that- argue with your customer.

If you’re one store, that’s not as much of an issue.  As the number of stores grow, the opportunity to move ecommerce expenses into the stores can result in saving a bunch of money.  The more stores, the more money you can save.

The savings happen for two reasons.  First, you’re going to cut some expenses.  Maybe in labor or facilities.  You are going to use the assets you have more efficiently.  The public retailers call this “leveraging” their fixed costs- spreading the same costs over a larger revenue base.

Second, you’re going to cut off any dysfunctional competition between ecommerce and brick and mortar.  Why might that competition exist in the first place? What, for example, if you have people who receive a bonus based, in one case, on brick and mortar sales and, on the other, on ecommerce sales?  I can pretty much guarantee they won’t be focused on maximizing companywide revenue.

The next thing you have to do more of, based on the integration of brick and mortar and ecommerce, is evolve your stores.  This is an example of where we find ourselves in the uncomfortable place of needing to change, not quite knowing how, but having to start anyway.  The integration of brick and mortar and ecommerce I’m describing means the role, functionality, and layout of stores will change.  As you work to minimize your inventory (I’ll get to that) and give store personnel the overall customer relationship, how big do stores have to be?  What inventory will they carry (as you can seamlessly draw on inventory across your whole system and probably on what your non-owned brands have in inventory as well)?

If you have a lot of stores, how might the role of your district managers change?  Will the growth of ecommerce mean you can get by with fewer stores in a given region?  What will a store’s layout and space requirements look like if it’s carrying some of the inventory that was previously held in some distribution center?  Will you need less square feet as customers order t-shirts online and they are automatically printed in the back room?

Would that t-shirt sale be a store or an ecommerce sale?  Doesn’t matter does it.  That’s why you have to see your stores as having just one revenue stream.

Okay, I said something about minimizing inventory.  The quality and immediacy of your data has to get better.  There are so many reasons that’s important, but right now I want to focus on its inventory impact.

Snowboarding used to be the industry poster child for inventory disasters.  One season and snow dependent.  It used to be common to end a season with enough close out product to wipe out the profit for the whole season.  Most of you have figured that out and adjusted your buys accordingly.  Better to mourn lost sales than product you have to slash the price on.

My suggestion is that you treat all your inventory like it was snowboarding product.

You’re in (and will continue to be) a market where product life cycles and trends don’t seem to last long.  We’re an industry where product is differentiated mostly by marketing and community judgment rather than features and new brands come (and go) with the speed of light.  Time to embrace that- since your customers are.

It’s been years since I started advocating for retailers to take risks with new brands.  It’s not now just urgent- it’s unavoidable.  It’s also been years-more than 10-since I suggested being prepared to give up some revenue, or at least some revenue growth, in favor of higher margins and lower operating expenses for a better bottom line.

Both are related to the quality of data and inventory.  Your plan for identifying new brands/product may be disciplined and rigorous or, for smaller retailers and brand, just a matter of keeping your ear to the ground and developing a culture where employees are aware of products and trends.

If new brands are important (both bringing them in and knowing when to dump them), if product differentiation is tough and based to some extent on scarcity/distribution, if trends are short and dynamic,  if you think getting stuck with merchandise you have to mark down sucks, if something not selling in one place might sell in another, and if you have another use for cash besides sitting in inventory then knowing exactly what is selling where, to whom and  how quickly matters a lot.

Yeah, I know- you already have inventory reports and gross margin reports and various other reports.  How often do you get them?  Do they provide the data you need to address the issues I’ve raised in the paragraph directly above?  Is the level of detail adequate?  Set goals you can measure that improve on the issues listed above.  Some retailers are installing systems with algorithms that are parsing customer as well as inventory and sales data to gain new insights.  What new insights? They don’t quite know yet.

Over the next couple of years this software will become available to everybody at a reasonable cost.

Let’s take a short break while I point you to a couple of related articles.  I haven’t used the term “social media” yet but obviously it’s impact on the changes in retail is important.  Here’s a link to an article from my research department on a social media influencer with 1.2 million followers.  “She” is a bot.  I have no idea where to go with that.  It’s just another example of the complexity we’re dealing with.

On the subject of distribution and brand building, read this about specialty brands doing limited edition, lower priced collaborations with Target.  Is this the way to expand your sales and build your brand, or destroy it? I tend towards the later.  What do you think?

Okay, breaks over.

What Retailers are Doing More Of

  1. Customer service
  2. Community building

Neither of those sound particularly new.  But if you’ve read this far, you know I’m suggesting you have to do what you did before in the way of customer service (though less of it for some customers) plus satisfy with new brands, experiences, surprises, and engagement.  And all this for a customer who wants endless newness.  No wonder I’m trying to get you to increase efficiency, improve inventory management, and cut costs.  One issue I need to give some more thought to is how, specifically, the role of a brick and mortar sales person changes given the integration with ecommerce.

Most industry retailers would say they’ve always been community builders.  I think that’s true.  Especially for smaller retailers, that community’s reach was defined by a limited geographic space around stores.  Now your community isn’t so easily defined. Your reach, through the internet, is “everybody.”  One thing hasn’t changed- if you think everybody is your customer, probably nobody is.

The word that’s popping up a lot more in defining your target customer is “culture.” Culture, in the context we’re talking about it, refers to commonalities among your customers.  It’s easy to say, for example, “We’re a skate retailer/brand.”  That’s a fine thing to do as long as you recognize that positioning yourself that way limits your growth because you’ve defined your target market.  I don’t have to remind you of all the companies that started with their roots in an activity, tried to expand outside their solid franchise in that activity, and did themselves a lot of damage.

Trying to figure out the culture of your target customers is a lot harder than saying “We’re a skate company” and defining your universe of potential customers that way.    Fortunately, you’ve got a lot more data on customers than you used to have, and they are busily telling the world what they like and don’t like and why.  That brings us right back to the importance of systems that allow you to parse all this data to provide insights on the culture of your customers.  You can always be a “skate” retailer/brand and perhaps draw comfort with that solid, if maybe over simplified, characterization of your customer and target market.  If you’re culture focused, you have to be plugged in enough to change as that culture changes.

I wish I had the space to be more specific, but this has already run longer than I like and, in any event, generalities are inevitable when I’m discussing industry wide issues.  I’m not asking for much am I?  I just want you to change most aspects of your business, integrate the pieces in a way that didn’t used to be necessary, and do it fast and continually-as your customer is requiring-while what you need to do is changing and isn’t completely obvious in the first place.

It’s not me asking.  It’s your customer requiring.

Scooters. Yes, Really. An Article on Scooters

Personal Note:

“Okay Diane [my wife], I give up.  We’ve been trying to find a smaller house for two years in this stupid Seattle real estate market.  It ain’t happening until next spring and I’m buying the cord of wood we need for our fire place to get through the winter (along with some red wine).”

Wood arrives.  We get it stacked.  Next day (you had to see this coming)- “Jeff, I’ve found our house!”

So she had.  The house we’ve now bought went on the market September 28th, we were in escrow on October 12th, closed about ten days later, put our old house on the market (way more fun to be a seller than a buyer in Seattle right now) and moved into the new place November 6th.  As the pile of boxes has diminished, I’ve once again turned to what’s going on in the industry.

Two months ago, I got an email from Dave Grant, the owner of Vermin Scooter Shop in Calgary.

“A what kind of shop?!” I thought.  Scooter shop.  Yep.

Like many of you, I remember all those years ago when scooters first made their appearance.  Also like many of you, especially in the skate industry, I expected scooters to be a blip that went away.  I recall how they followed the typical and expected trajectory- grew exponentially, got over supplied, crashed.  That’s the end of that, many of us thought.

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Core Versus More; A History of the Surf Industry

Perhaps I bring the most value to the industry when a reader sends me something they think is important but that they don’t want to be directly associated with.  And they figure, “Send it to Jeff!  He’ll publicize anything.”

Most of the time, they’re right and this is one of those times.

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One More Comment on Trade Shows, A Perspective On the “Outdoor” Industry, and Articles on Retail.

Trade Shows

Trade shows were created to bring buyers and sellers, that is brands and retailers, together to do business.  Everything else that goes on at trade shows, beneficial as it may be, has been secondary to that goal.

But there are fewer smaller retailers and fewer retailers overall.  The consensus is that the number will continue to drop (see the articles referenced at the end of this).  Larger retailers have less reason to attend, as their most important suppliers reach them outside of the trade show venue.  Meanwhile, changes in logistics, technology and the supply chain have introduced some chaos into the formerly more or less reliable buy sell cycle around which we scheduled shows.

To me, this means there’s less value in attending traditional shows.  The return on investment is harder to justify for buyers and sellers.  Meanwhile, brands and retailers are generally competitors at a greater or lesser level.  Are they perhaps a bit more cautious in how they work together and share?

What’s the result?  Neither buyers or sellers need to send as many people to trade show for as long.  Smaller booths, shorter shows, fewer attendees.  Consolidation of shows.  I haven’t had any retailer or brand tell me that putting OR together with SIA is a bad idea.  If you are one who thinks it is, I’d love to hear why.  Ultimately, I expect fewer shows though, as is always the case in consolidation, everybody will struggle to survive hoping it’s the other guy who goes away.

There will be more focus on consumers.  It’s the best way to cover overhead.  There will be some smaller, focused, curated shows.  Interestingly, it feels like there will be room for big shows and for small shows.  As usual, the ones caught in the middle will have the most trouble.  I wonder if there might somehow be some local, “popup” shows.

The fundamental reason trade shows were created has declined in importance.  A lot.  That’s the thought I want you to have top of mind as you consider the show landscape.  Given the change, how has what you get out of the shows changed?

The Outdoor Industry

Boardsport Source is a good magazine.  It’s generally thoughtful, and helps me know what’s going on in Europe.  I was looking at “The Great Outdoors SS18 Retail Buyer’s Guide” in the July issue.  I can’t find the picture on line, but in the Camping Gear section of the magazine, there was a picture of a campfire.  Nothing unusual about the fire.  But it was on some kind of curved metal grate or holder just for the fire.  Stuck into the ground next to it was a black metal pole with a couple of adjustable rods coming off it.

One of those rods held a large metal pot with a lid that was cooking something over the fire.  The other, higher up on the pole and not over the fire, held a tray with what appeared to be a coffee pot and mug as well as a plate with food on it.

So, I used to do some serious back packing.  A week to two weeks out in the back country over mountain passes carrying everything we needed on our backs.  Sometimes we caught some fish.  My “friends” let me clean them so I would be the one the bear was attracted to.

When you do that kind of camping, you are always concerned with the weight of your pack.  First, you are concerned that it is too heavy.  Later in the hike, as the food goes away and if the fish aren’t biting, you worry it’s too light.

I want you to know that none the equipment I described around the fire ever made it into any back-country camper’s pack.  Not for a minute did we consider trying, as the article says, to “bring your kitchen outdoors.”  Comfort was measured ounce by ounce, as you strove obsessively to minimize the weight of what you had to carry.  Or to put it in somebody else’s pack.

I’m not against drive up camping and having your comforts.  Certainly, rigorous backpacking isn’t for everybody.  But the picture and description of the gear made me think about the “outdoor” target market.  For the reasons I’ve described this kind of equipment specifically excludes serious backcountry campers.  Unless they have it flown in by helicopter I suppose.

The elite athletes in skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing always used more or less the same equipment the typical participant used, though of course they did things with it that most of us were never going to try.

Suddenly, in this particular case at least, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I don’t quite know what to make of it.  Is the “outdoor” market defined as anybody who’s not “indoors?”  Is there a “core” to be connected to?  Does that matter?  Do the customers, whoever they are, care about the product or do they just take product for granted and focus on an associated experience?

What does it mean to be a brand in the “outdoor” market and how do you identify your customers?  If you think it’s everybody who’s not indoors, it’s nobody.  I guess it helps a little if you say, “active outdoors,” but it hardly solves the problem.

Perhaps, as we’ve become more and dependent on the public and private equity markets for financing, you have to define your brand’s potential in a way that at least appears to place it in a market where there’s enough growth opportunity- even if that’s destructive of the brand in the longer term.

Read These

This first article, “Over Storing America,” gives some insight into how retail got to be so overbuilt that perhaps you hadn’t thought about.

The second, called “Retail Shift,” was sent to me by a friend.  Thanks friend.  The article says:

“the market make-up has been shifting and continues to shift from a fairly homogeneous composition of primarily baby boomers into a significantly splintered compilation consisting of Gen X, milliennials, Gen Z and the boomers. Multiple sub-segments exist within each of these large segments that have their own defining characteristics. This complex segmentation is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of retail platforms today have erroneously been founded and built on the strategic premise that large homogeneous groups of people generally desire the same things.”

Both are worthy of a read.

 

Retail, Technology, Consolidation, and Unintended Consequences

This morning, the Seattle Times featured this article telling us that REI wage hikes for store employee announced last summer will be costing the company $24 to $25 million.  The company’s net income for its last complete year was $38.3 million.

Meanwhile, my oldest son sent me this article from Investor’s Business Daily, telling us that fast food purveyor Wendy’s will have self-service ordering kiosks in 6,000 restaurants in the second half of this year due to rising minimum wages and tight labor conditions.

I’ve been writing about the potential impact of 3D printing and other kinds of manufacturing technology for a while.  Here’s my article on the apparel manufacturing system Intel plans to introduce.

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What Will Retail Be Like in Five Years and How Will You Prosper?

That was the question asked at a meeting last week at the Agenda trade show.  The meeting was attended by various invited brands and retailers and by me.

This meeting has been going for maybe four shows now and has generally been thoughtful and productive.  That’s a welcome improvement from the larger group meetings that used to be held at ASR.  They tended to be a bit acrimonious and have limited value.  Except that I got a free breakfast.

I had to leave before the meeting ended for a dinner engagement and didn’t get a chance to put in my two cents worth.  But the topic keeps churning my brain.  Typically, that means I should write about it.

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The Impact of Demographics on the Active Outdoor Industry

I’ve just finished reading a book called The Methuselah Effect, by Patrick Cox.  As I’ve said, I often get intriguing business ideas from non-business books.  This is one of those times.  I really recommend this book.  The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to be on Amazon, which I’ve never seen before.

Anyway, the book is about advances in biotechnology and how they are going to impact health and longevity.  The first chapter title is, “Fewer Births, Longer Lives: Society’s Aging Changes Everything.”

His premise, which I found convincing, is that people are going to live longer and be more active.  But there are going to be fewer people.  He goes on to says in the first page, “From here on out, every generation will be smaller than the one before it.  After 200,000 years of population growth, mankind’s numbers are shrinking.”

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The Wallons and Skate Longboards

I want to talk about taking a long term perspective, unforeseen consequences, not learning from history and maybe confirmation bias.  A couple of things have serendipitously come across my desk as the same time that made me renew by thinking on these issues.  I seem to find my best business lessons everywhere but in business books.

As you may have read, the European Community has just spent 7 years negotiating a trade pact with Canada.  But it collapsed because the Wallons voted against it.  The Wallons represent the French speaking part of Belgium.  The other part speaks Dutch and each part has its own parliament.

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Growing Snowboard Brand Revenue; the Active Outdoor Market and Year Around Resorts

There has been much ringing of hands and gnashing of teeth around the subject of snowboard participation and what to do about it.  Studies have been done and programs implemented.  What has their impact been?  Hard to know, because we don’t know what things would look like if they hadn’t happened.

SIA reports there were 17.1 million snowboard visits to U.S. resorts during the 2004-05 season.  That number was 14.5 million in the 2014-15 season, down 15.2% over that period.  Participation during this period peaked during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons at 18.9 million.

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